Falcons' plight explained to pupils
Wilson and Napoleon are part a breeding programmeSONIA BEAL
Primary school pupils around Marlborough have been given a close-up view of Wilson, one of two New Zealand falcons stationed at the Marlborough Falcon Conservation Trust near Blenheim.
The trust and a Conservation Department representative visited Riverlands, Redwoodtown, Mayfield, Rapaura, Ward, Witherlea, Grovetown and Renwick schools this week to make pupils more aware of the plight of the birds.
DOC community relations programme manager Shelly Sidley said there were fewer falcons than kiwi, and their numbers were continuing to decline.
"We don't know how many falcons there are in New Zealand, because some populations are in the wild and they nest on the ground," Ms Sidley said. "Our best estimate is about 12,000 birds."
DOC and the trust are aiming to increase the falcon population in Marlborough.
Leading causes of the decline were electrocution, predators and persecution.
DOC had received reports of falcons being shot. Some bodies had been recovered, but much of the information was based on hearsay, Ms Sidley said.
New Zealand falcons had been shot ever since Europeans arrived in the country with guns, she said.
"There used to be a bounty on harrier hawks, which look similar to New Zealand falcons, and a lot of people don't know the difference, so there was a perception it was OK to do that."
Falcons traditionally ate native birds, she said. But their diet had adapted after the arrival of pests including possums, stoats and rats. About 80 percent of their diet now was introduced species such as sparrows, blackbirds and finches.
"Some people think they will attack their chickens and pigeons, but that's not their normal diet – it's probably something they would do when they're under stress." If people were worried about their animals, they should keep them under cover, Ms Sidley said.
Marlborough was a stronghold for the species, despite the dramatic change in habitat since settlers arrived.
DOC had granted the trust a permit for their falcons, Wilson and Napoleon, which are part of its breeding and education programme.
- The Marlborough Express